A new study provides evidence supporting a seemingly obvious – but unproven – link between walking- and cycling-friendly communities and lower levels of obesity.
Researchers found that people are more likely to have healthy weights if they live in places where walking and cycling are more common. The link held up among nations, cities and U.S. states.
“It’s really important to promote walking and cycling as safe, convenient and feasible modes of getting around on an everyday basis,” John Pucher lead author and a professor who studies transportation at Rutgers University, stated in a press release.
Pucher and colleagues analyzed statistics about walking and cycling for all purposes from 14 countries, including Sweden, Spain and Great Britain. They also looked at statistics about walking and cycling to work in all 50 states and 47 of the 50 largest U.S. cities.
Switzerland, the Netherlands and Spain had the highest levels of walking and cycling among the countries, with the United States in the bottom three with Australia and Canada. Among American cities, the highest rates of walking and cycling to work were in Boston, Washington D.C., San Francisco, Minneapolis and Seattle.
The researchers tried to find links between the levels of walking and cycling and those of physical activity, obesity and diabetes in the geographic areas. Their findings appear in the October issue of the American Journal of Public Health.
There is a connection between more walking and cycling and lower levels of obesity and diabetes, the researchers found.
“In the big picture, the study results suggest that a big part of the gaps between American states and cities concerning health can be explained by differences in levels of walking and cycling”, Pucher stated. “While the link between more exercise and less obesity might seem obvious, there is a need for more scientific evidence to back it up.”